The Past and Future of People’s Park
Leaders at the University of California have decided to build dorms on the storied park in Berkeley.,
On the final day of September, the leaders of the University of California system voted to build student dorms near one of their biggest campuses.
With the exorbitant cost of housing in California, the decision to finance new places to live for 1,100 U.C. Berkeley undergraduates might seem an obvious, even essential, choice.
But the project’s location has made it highly contentious: Officials plan to build in People’s Park, one of the most storied plots of land in the Bay Area.
How People’s Park came to be
The story of People’s Park began in 1967, with a few dozen houses three blocks south of the main entrance to U.C. Berkeley’s campus.
University officials used eminent domain to buy the properties and raze them, saying they needed the land for dorms. Yet many believed destroying the houses was a ruse.
Berkeley had become the center of the nation’s counterculture movement, home to huge protests about the Free Speech Movement and against the Vietnam War. And thousands of those left-leaning activists had settled on the affordable south side of campus, exactly where officials were ousting residents.
So when construction of the dorms stalled, Berkeley residents decided to reclaim the dirt lot where the houses had once stood.
In the spring of 1969, hundreds of people showed up to add sod, flowers and trees. Others served meals and played music. The project, rooted in a spirit of optimism and anti-authoritarianism, began to be called “People’s Park.”
But it didn’t last. On May 15, 1969, the university dispatched hundreds of police officers to bulldoze the park, which was on campus property. That ignited a conflict with protesters that came to be known as Bloody Thursday, in which law enforcement killed one man and injured more than 100.
To try to quell further rebellion, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan sent in 3,000 National Guard troops, who arrived with tanks and trucks. During the two weeks they stayed in Berkeley, the National Guard even dropped tear gas over the campus’s quad from a helicopter.
“The whole city felt under siege, and it really felt like this was just a manifestation of the conflict between the ‘60s generation and the conservative pro-war movement,” said Frances Dinkelspiel, who has written extensively about the park for the news outlet Berkeleyside. (She noted that Reagan later ran for president in part on his record of controlling the protests at Berkeley.)
The park became a symbol of Berkeley’s counterculture movement and the sacrifices made in its honor. It has remained mostly unchanged for decades.
“Imagine when you’re 19 and 20, whatever happens in your life at that time is so significant and you feel it very deeply. The people who are involved in People’s Park, that’s still how they feel,” Dinkelspiel told me.
What’s next for the park
These days, most U.C. Berkeley students don’t enter the park, and campus officials warn them about crime there. But university leaders have struggled for years to secure support to use the land in a different way — until now.
The $312 million project that the University of California regents approved last month will transform People’s Park, turning half of the land into housing for both students and unhoused people from the community.
The other half of the park will remain open space and will include a section honoring its history.
Dinkelspiel told me she thinks the landmark decision to remake the park came about because of the determination of U.C. Berkeley’s chancellor, Carol Christ, as well as the housing crisis in the Bay Area, easily visible in the rows of tents that have popped up around Berkeley.
U.C. Berkeley houses 23 percent of its students, the lowest in the University of California system. This fall, 5,000 students were turned away from student housing, a growing problem that has most likely eroded resistance to changing People’s Park.
“The current student body, they don’t know anything about the history,” Dinkelspiel said. “The concerns of students are, ‘How can I afford to live in Berkeley, this very expensive place?’ They’re not thinking about the Free Speech Movement and the Vietnam War.”
The rest of the news
Floods and landslides: An “atmospheric river” is pummeling parts of California with rain and winds.
Problems with legal weed: California’s illegal marijuana market makes twice as much annually as its legal market does, Politico reports.
“Rust” shooting: Last week, Alec Baldwin fired a gun being used as a prop on a New Mexico movie set, killing a cinematographer. Real firearms are routinely used in films, reports Brooks Barnes, who covers Hollywood for The Times.
Attention is now turning toward Dave Halls, the film’s assistant director who handed Baldwin the firearm and told him it was unloaded. And, the film’s director, Joel Souza, gave the most detailed account of the shooting so far.
Student marathoners: More than 50,000 middle and high school students, mostly from underserved communities, have trained for and completed the Los Angeles Marathon.
Pan-coronavirus vaccine: La Jolla Institute for Immunology is working on a single vaccine for all coronaviruses, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Kobe Bryant death: In a new deposition, Vanessa Bryant tells of how she learned of her husband’s and daughter’s deaths.
Versatile defenders: As N.F.L. offenses grow increasingly complex, defenders like the Los Angeles Chargers’ Derwin James are learning that versatility is now the name of the game.
The fate of historic trees: After wildfires, upward of 10,000 damaged trees must be removed, which will keep a nearby highway closed to visitors who seek the world’s two largest sequoia trees, The Associated Press reports.
Theranos trial: Here’s what you missed in the seventh week of the Elizabeth Holmes trial.
A tale of two droughts: In Mendocino County, one town is urging residents to collect rainfall, while another is sending them water by the truckload, The Washington Post reports.
What we’re eating
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Cindy Mediavilla, a reader who lives in Culver City:
My husband and I travel to Atascadero several times a year. Away from the more touristy spots on the Central Coast, Atascadero is small, quiet, and home to several locally-owned eateries, including the Atascadero Bistro and Back Porch Bakery. The rocker Neil Young rented our home-away-from-home — the nearly 100-year-old Carlton Hotel — for guests several years ago when he married the actress Daryl Hannah. And if that isn’t reason enough to visit, Atascadero is a quick drive to San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, and Morro Bay.
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we’re recommending
A California reader asked The Times whether she should attend an outdoor wedding in Texas for her niece, who isn’t vaccinated against Covid-19.
I recently wrote about the rise of TV shows set in Los Angeles.
Tell us your favorite shows set in California. Email me at CAtoday@nytimes.com.
And before you go, some good news
Gillian Stoss first spotted Zach Lent when her San Francisco elementary school basketball team played against his.
Stoss and Lent were both in eighth grade. They began chatting on AOL Instant Messenger.
Sixteen years later, the couple married. Their wedding was held on Oct. 2 in Monterey.
Read their love story in The Times.
Thanks for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Mayonnaise seasoned with garlic (5 letters).
Miles McKinley and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.